Hill View, a Cotswold-stone village house set in the heart of Gloucestershire’s Coln Valley, harbours a surprise for its buyers. Along with the charming, century-old house, farmyard, stables and 5.3 acres of grounds, the £895,000 asking price will also secure them a tame hen called Henrietta. ‘We think she’s four years old. She’s a pet, and is particularly friendly-she comes into the kitchen, jumps up onto things and greets new arrivals like a dog,’ says Julia Judd of selling agent Knight Frank. ‘Her image is on the back of the particulars, so buyers know she’s included in the sale.’
Henrietta certainly isn’t the strangest ‘fitting’ to be included in a sale. When the parents of Lt-Cmdr Gordon Marshall bought a delightful Georgian house in Eye, Suffolk, in 1948, they also acquired four cottages, some allotments and an elderly lady, who would, by contract, have to be nursed by the Lt-Cmdr’s mother (Country Life, March 30, 2011). ‘It’s possibly the most extraordinary clause in estate-agency history,’ comments Simon Harrison of Harrison Edge estate agents, who resold the property last year-this time unencumbered.
Strange though some of these agreements may be, however, buyers are at least aware of what they’re getting, and often stand to benefit from it. Ed Heaton of buying agents Property Vision recalls how delighted one of his clients was to inherit ‘a well-stocked and rather valuable wine cellar’ when the property’s vendor, a widow, decided to leave behind her late husband’s collect-ion. ‘She was teetotal and simply wasn’t interested. Our client was absolutely thrilled.’
Problems arise when unusual ‘fittings’ are left behind by the previous owners without any prior discussion with the incoming ones. ‘The worst cases are when animals are left behind without communication, leaving the incoming purchaser in a quandary,’ notes Zoe Napier of Zoe Napier Country & Equestrian, who has often had to make arrangements for dogs, cats and ponies. Mr Harrison once found ‘an emaciated and extremely smelly English springer spaniel’ tied to a post by a bathrobe cord when valuing a country cottage that had been repossessed. ‘The cord had cut into her neck. It was a pitiful sight. She jumped straight into my car and went on to give me four years of love and pleasure-and cost me a fortune in vet’s bills.’
Not every discovery is so heart-wrenching, however-some are downright eyebrow-raising. Lucky buyers have occasionally come across valuable antiques stashed in the recesses of their new homes-Andy Buchanan of John D. Wood in Chelsea knows of someone who found a complete set of Sheraton dining-room chairs. But imagine the discomfort of the lady who bought a house in Sussex through Jackson-Stops & Staff a few years ago when, as she cleared her new attic, she stumbled upon a box of slides showing the previous owners in their birthday suits.
Less amusing, but equally disturbing, is the increasing like-lihood that vendors will ‘forget’ to dispose of their rubbish. ‘The vast majority of sellers go out of their way to make sure they leave their houses immaculate for the new owners, but there is a small, sadly growing, minority who leave their houses in a truly shocking state,’ explains Mr Heaton.
Buyers ought to ask their solicitors for advice and, whenever possible, should try and protect themselves by inserting some provision in the sale contract, so they have legal grounds for complaint. At Property Vision, for example, ‘we always try and insert a clause that we have a pre-completion inspection, so if the house isn’t as it should be, we can try and withhold monies to set it right,’ adds Mr Heaton.
Sometimes previous owners leave their belongings behind by mistake and appreciate getting them back. Mr Buchanan witnessed what is perhaps the strangest case of lost and found. The incoming owners of a Chelsea property opened their new garage to find a beautiful Bentley-the very car that a neighbour had reported stolen some time before. As it turns out, ‘the neighbour had driven into the wrong garage after a good party and the Bentley was only rediscovered after the house, which had been empty for some time, had been sold and reoccupied,’ recalls Mr Buchanan. The car was reunited with its rightful owner, but perhaps, just this once, the buyers wouldn’t have minded keeping the unexpected extra that came with their new home.
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